One of the most intriguing observations in the current child development literature is the contrast between the ever-increasing evidence of just how complicated children's cognitive development is and the phenomenon known as 'infantile amnesia'. Basically, people have very few memories before the age of 3 years. Clearly from all that has been described earlier about the differential reactions of babies to specific stimuli, to their recognizing their mother's voice or holding out their arms to their father rather than to a stranger, children increasingly have some form of central representations that they can work on. However, these early memories are not accessible in later life. It is really not until language is well established that people have what is ordinarily termed memory for past events.
Clearly, infantile amnesia poses a major challenge to any theory of child development or personality that tries to link very early experiences with later adjustment. But early experience does affect the way in which relationships are formed, so what are the mechanisms? As the different types of memory are better understood, so better assessment of these functions is possible.
Some very recent work has looked at implicit and explicit memory as well as attentional processes in children with generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, and depression. Broadly speaking, the preliminary findings are in accord with the voluminous findings with adult patients, namely that depressed children tend to have biases in memory for sad things, while anxious children do not. In contrast, children with anxiety disorders (including PTSD) have biases in attention that make them attend more to threatening cues in their environment, or at least to threatening words projected on computer screens. Studies using these adult-generated paradigms but utilized within a developmental framework should greatly increase our understanding of why some children break down under stress and others do not. Biases in cognitive processing of emotional reactions are implicated and can now be studied more readily.
Goswami(41> summarizes many ingenious experiments that establish the parameters of children's memory. While parents and teachers often talk about children having problems with memory and even 'short-term memory', developmental psychologists have worked on much more complex paradigms and identified a number of different memory systems:
• Recognition memory is simply the ability to realize that a particular stimulus has been encountered before. Recognition is always easier than recall, as those learning a foreign language can testify. Once established in the first year of life, recognition memory does not change much.
• Implicit memory is another term for 'memory without awareness'. Although not able to put it in to words, people can act differently to previously exposed stimuli than to novel ones. This seems to be fully developed by around 4 years of age.
• Episodic memory involves awareness. It is this memory system that organizes memories into stories or scripts concerning similar activities. These scripts contain both temporal and causal information. The ability to learn sequences in a particular chain of events does develop with age. It is now that one realizes that there needs to be some mechanism to get rid of many of the memories for everyday activities, otherwise the whole memory will get clogged up with non-essential information. In other words, memory processes are seen as being very active with some memory traces remaining in (technically) short-term memory for only a few seconds unless operated upon and stored in long-term store.
• Eye-witness memory has taken on a special importance as children are expected to testify in court on things they have witnessed happening to themselves or to others. Children can recall things fairly accurately, as long as deliberate leading questions are not put to them. (42> Three-year-olds are more suggestible than 5-year-olds. Bruck et al.(4.2) found that experienced adults, such as psychiatrists or judges, evaluated children's responses to questioning about a real event using the child's behaviour while giving their answer. Where children gave firm answers with lots of supporting details, they were judged to have clear and accurate memories. Where children were uncertain and hesitant, they were seen as fabricating whereas they were hesitating because the questioner was asking the wrong questions—ones that were in conflict with what had actually happened: they were the ones who were actually telling the truth. The younger confident children were often telling adults what they wanted to hear! A great deal more needs to be done in relation to helping children recall what has happened to them without using leading questions. (Children's ability to testify as witnesses is considered further in Chapter.9.4..2.)
• Working memory was seen by Baddeley and coworkers as consisting of a central executive linked to two separate subsystems: a phonological loop and a visuospatial sketchpad. Information decays in the phonological loop in 1 or 2 s, unless it is actively rehearsed. It is thought that children predominantly use a visuospatial encoding until they switch to the phonological-verbal system around the age of 5 years. Deaf children continue to rely on the visual encoding for much longer.
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